Beth scowled at the wobbly cubes in the bowl. Jack gave her tray another bump, setting them to wiggling again. The scowl lessened, and a ghost of a smile flickered at the corners of the girl’s mouth.
“Stop it,” she said, pushing her tray, forcing his back across the table. “I’m trying to sulk and you’re ruining it.” The cubes jiggled, one of them tumbling from the bowl, plopping onto Jack’s tray. “There. You eat it.”
Jack speared it on the end of his fork, and shook it off back into the bowl. “It’s your lunch. You eat it.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Her stomach growled.
Jack reached over, speared the cube again, held it up. “Eat.”
There was a chirp and a flash, and they both looked a few tables over to see Hannah glancing down at her camera’s viewscreen.
Beth kept her lips pressed tightly together, and Jack was just happy to see some color in them. Not so happy that he didn’t lower the gelatin cube, though.
“Try making airplane noises,” Charlotte said. “It worked on Ellie.”
Beth muttered something, her lips barely moving.
Jack leaned forward. “What?”
Beth glanced nearly cross-eyed at the fork, then lifted her nose defiantly.
“No, what did you say?” Jack asked.
“I said I want a—-”
Jack popped the gelatin in her mouth, and he hoped that she went red from the embarrassment, rather than, say, a sudden lack of air. Her eyes widened in surprise, and then narrowed as she chewed reluctantly.
“Say something else,” he said. “This is kind of fun.”
Beth sat back, crossing her arms. “This is not fun! You know what that is, don’t you?”
“Cherry?” Jack asked, turning the cube on his fork, staring at the different wiggling faces. He sniffed it. “No, watermelon.”
He popped it into her mouth.
“Well? Was I right?”
Beth swallowed, then nodded.
Jack laughed, and then caught her expression. He swallowed his laughter.
“They make you eat this stuff when they’re going to do tests, Jack.”
“Well, they need to find out what’s wrong so they can fix it,” Jack said. “And they do tests to figure that out. At least, that’s how I thought medicine worked….”
Beth leaned closer, and hissed “I already know what’s wrong. And it’s not something they can fix!”
“But you were getting better.”
“Which is why They’ve made it worse! They’ve set their price, and They’ll have it one way or another.”
“That’s not fair!”
“No, Jack, it isn’t. But that’s the way it is.” Beth stabbed an orange cube with her fork, staring at it.
“So that’s it? You’re just giving up?”
She set down her fork, and it bounced. “They’re going to run their tests no matter what, Jack. They’ll find whatever they’re going to find.”
“But if you ask my mom and dad, surely they—”
“Your mom and dad weren’t the only ones in the doctor’s office.” Beth bounced the fork a few times. “The court sent a case worker. She says if I don’t take the tests, I’ll have to go back. And they’ll do the tests there, anyway.”
She brought the fork up to her mouth, and Jack reached over, taking it.
Jack put the fork back in the bowl, and then swung their trays around, so his cheeseburger and chips sat in front of the girl.
Beth tried to push the tray away. “Jack, what are you doing?”
He grinned. “Just what you do all the time. Breaking some rules. Now eat up,” he said, gobbling the gelatin cube.
Three tables away, Hannah made to get to her feet, but Charlotte reached out and took her sister’s wrist. Jack didn’t hear their conversation over the crunching of his potato chips.
* * * * *
Jack’s father came out of the doctor’s office, his hands full of papers and pamphlets. He let out a deep sigh as he sat down next to Jack, running his hand through his hair.
“You know,” he said, “if I didn’t know better, I’d say somebody didn’t want to take a trip downstairs to radiology.”
“And I might guess that somebody switched trays at lunch.”
Jack stared at the painting on the opposite wall of the waiting room, above Ellie’s head.
“I guess Beth might have snuck a bite or two while I wasn’t looking,” Jack said.
“And what do you think your sisters would say, if I asked them?”
Jack shrugged again. “I guess it depends on which one you ask.”
“And which would you suggest I ask first?”
Jack’s father nodded. “That’s what I thought. We’ll discuss this tonight, at dinner.”
Jack nodded. “Yes, sir.”